Advent peace

The second week of Advent is the week of peace. Peace is a challenging concept to teach, in part because it seems like a simple concept. Like hope, however, peace is a rich idea that took generations to develop and is challenging to understand in all of its aspects.

Plenty of Advent sermons have addressed peace as in inner quality. Traditions of prayer and contemplation have taught generations of faithful people to find peace in the midst of busy and often conflicted lives. To breathe deeply and cast your worries and cares on God gives a deep sense of peace and satisfaction. There are many stories of faithful Christians who have achieved a deep sense of inner peace even though they suffer persecution and pain. Coming to peace with grief is a long and difficult process, but one that allows us to go on despite deep loss.

The dream of peace is a vision of inner well being.

The Biblical concept of peace certainly does involve inner peace and well being. But it is a mistake to ignore the simple fact that it also refers to political peace. Peace between warring nations and conflicted parties is a very real meaning of Biblical peace. The Hebrew concept of Shalom is multi-dimensional. It refers to well-being and it also refers to the cessation of hostilities between conflicted parties.

The dream of peace is a vision of an end of war.

Simple solutions, however, are rarely the route to lasting peace. Over and over again, biblical leaders raise the issue of justice. Moses reminded Pharaoh that there could be no peace for him as long as the people of Israel suffered under the Egyptian system of slavery. Without justice there can be no peace. It takes more than a cessation of open warfare for peace to truly reign.

The dream of peace is a vision of justice for all.

Furthermore, armed conflict between nations is only part of the complex concept. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus speaks of anger that arises between people who are close to each other. He advises the faithful that if they have anger or a dispute between brothers and sisters, to resolve it. He even places this resolution ahead of the commandment to make offerings. When you are offering a gift and you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, lay aside your gift and go and be reconciled before you offer that gift.

The dream of peace is a vision of reconciliation between conflicted parties.

It is all of these things and so much more.

Peace, like hope, is a challenging concept to teach. The most familiar seasons of the church year almost always present challenges. We repeat the process every year in part because the ideas are difficult to learn. Every concept that involves depth upon depth offers new ways to understand each time it is seriously considered.

It is the reality of the very difficult concepts of Advent that has made me very wary of our society’s rush to Christmas. All of the lights and marketing and Santa displays demonstrate well our desire for celebration. We love feasts and parties and gifts. And ours is an inpatient culture. Instead of giving time for preparation and dwelling with the season of Advent, we are quick to rush to Christmas, skipping over the preparations and going straight to the celebration. I noticed Christmas decorations in retail stores before Halloween this year.

The older I get the more I appreciate the season of Advent. I find it to be meaningful to dwell with the complex ideas that truly believing in the birth of new life brings.

This year, as we have the opportunity to share Advent with our grandchildren, we will tell the story of Sadako and the thousand paper cranes. We will fold paper cranes together and speak of her longing for healing. But we will also read the story of Shin’s tricycle and the deep tragedy of Hiroshima. We will look at a few pictures and tell our grandchildren of our visit to the Hiroshima Peace Museum, where Shinichi’s tricycle is displayed. We will talk about their cousin who lives in Japan and about the new baby of our exchange daughter Masami. We will speak of the connections we have with the people of Japan, who were, as recently as the time of our parents, considered to be our enemies.

We don’t expect our grandchildren to fully understand all of the mysteries of the complex history of our nation’s relationship with Japan. We do, however, expect them to understand that the people of Japan are human like them, with hopes and dreams like theirs. We do expect them to understand our deep connections with specific individuals in that far away country and how their lives and ours are intertwined.

Like the other themes of Advent, we have the luxury of being able to return to peace for many years as our grandchildren grow and mature. They will experience Advent as a season that repeats, with depth upon depth. Already they remember the Advent calendars and craft projects that we have sent in the mail in previous years. Now that we are together for Advent, we can reinforce the teaching that was begun long distance with face to face experiences.

The story of Christmas is the story of a baby that was born in inconvenient times. There was a major census taking place. Roman authorities had ordered everyone to travel to the city of their birth. Joseph had to go to Bethlehem from Nazareth and he had to take Mary with him despite the nearby arrival of their baby. The home of their relatives was crowded. There was no room for them in the guest quarters.

Christmas comes at an uncomfortable time for us this year. The pandemic is raging and infections, hospitalizations and deaths are spiking just at the time when we want to get together with others. We have to be very careful to do our part to help prevent the spread. These are inconvenient times.

These are the times when our people long for peace.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!